From the Tour circus to the Air Force, and back to the Tour

Translated from today’s report in Sportza (Flemish Cycling Media & VRT)

Without World War I, our compatriot might have won a record number of victories in the biggest cycling event in the world, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain each hold 5 Tour victories. But our countryman Philippe Thys might have been able to leave those cycling legends behind without the First World War. Thys, who lived in Anderlecht, achieved his first Tour victory in 1913 at the age of 22. A year later he did that trick again. The little mountain goat seemed to set the tone for years. But after that, World War I threw a spanner in the works. The Tour was canceled 4 times in a row (1915-1918). Thys joined the Belgian Air Force. His competitors Petit-Breton, Faber, and Lapize did not survive the war. In the first post-war edition in 1919, Thys had to stop due to stomach problems. In 1920, exactly 100 years ago, the Belgian was at the start of the Tour in which he would win his 3rd overall victory. A record that would last for 35 years.

The 15 stages in that Tour of 1920 averaged 367 kilometers long. Thys was on the final podium with a 57-minute bonus to the number 2 Hector Heusghem. The top 7 in that Tour was completely Belgian (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
The tobacco industry was very much involved in promoting their brands in the cycling world, even Eddy Merckx in the sixties lent himself to publicity photos with the dreaded weed (he was an occasional smoker) The perception at the time was that smoking opened up the airways, which was beneficial to cyclists. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
There were 138 cyclists registered for the race, of which 113 started the first stage of the 1920 Tour de France. 31 of those were in the first class, the other 82 in the second class. Favourites were Christophe, Mottiat, Thys, Belloni, Alavoine, and Henri Pelissier. It consisted of 15 stages over 5,503 kilometres (3,419 mi), ridden at an average speed of 24.072 kilometres per hour (14.958 mph) (Photo courtesy of Sporza)